On June 29, 2009, two inmates at the Manatee County Jail in Palmetto, Florida filed a pro se lawsuit on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated against the Manatee County Jail under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Plaintiffs alleged that the new mail policy at Manatee County Jail, which only allowed inmates to receive post-cards, was unconstitutional. Additionally, the plaintiffs alleged that Manatee County Jail personnel were opening their privileged mail, jail personnel were allowing trainees to search legal bins and legal mail without the owner being present, and that the defendants were violating their constitutional rights by allowing trainees to perform training exercises on them and other prisoners, including cavity searches. On July 8, 2009, the case was dismissed without prejudice, because the plaintiffs raised several unrelated claims in the same complaint.
Plaintiffs filed an amended pro se complaint on July 24, 2009, which only challenged the Manatee County Jail mail policy. The Court dismissed the amended complaint without prejudice because the plaintiffs were proceeding pro se and were purporting to bring a class action for themselves and all others similarly situated. The next month, plaintiffs filed a pro se complaint alleging that defendants were violating their constitutional rights by allowing trainees to perform training exercises on them and other prisoners. On October 26, 2009, the Court appointed pro bono counsel to represent the plaintiffs. On February 17, 2010, plaintiffs' counsel filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss the complaint, which the Court granted on February 19, 2010.
On September 4, 2009, the plaintiffs filed a pro se 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, alleging that the new mail policy at Manatee Couty Jail and the Defendants' practice of opening privileged mail and censoring the newspaper given to inmates violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights.
The court appointed pro bono counsel to the Plaintiffs on October 26, 2009. Plaintiffs' counsel filed an amended complaint on February 18, 2010, claiming that the new mail policy violated the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the inmates and the inmates family members and friends. The plaintiffs' group included two inmates and two family members of inmates. The plaintiffs sought injunctive relief.
On April 15, 2010, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint.
On May 12, 2010, the defendants filed a motion to disqualify Judge Kovachevich for bias or prejudice. The defendants alleged that one of Judge Kovachevich's staff attorneys undertook a factual investigation regarding the plaintiffs' claim. Allegedly, the staff attorney contacted the jail and requested legal precedent regarding the defendants' mail policy. Additionally, the defendants claimed that the staff attorney made a sua sponte request for counsel to represent the plaintiffs.
On May 28, 2010, the District Court (Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich) dismissed the plaintiffs' complaint. The District Court (Judge Kovachevich) held that regulations and policies involving incoming mail are valid if they are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. Gambuzza v. Parmenter, No. 8:09-cv-1891-T-17TBM, 2010 WL 2179029, *5 (May 28, 2010) (quoting Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. at 85, 107 S.Ct. 2254 (1987)). The court held that postcard only mail policies are reasonably related to penological interests and cited precedent from the Middle District of Florida.
On June 23, 2010, the plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration of the case and recusal of Judge Kovachevich. As of February 7, 2016, the Court did not issue any orders regarding the plaintiffs' motion.Joe Reiter - 05/12/2011
Maurice Youkanna - 07/04/2014
Katherine Reineck - 02/07/2016